The Pros and Cons of Fractional CMOs

A close look at this budget-friendly
marketing solution. 

Orange Chevrons Right

Henry Ford famously said that “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.” It’s true — whether you’re a small start-up or an established mid-size business, your company needs marketing to thrive and meet its goals. But when the budget is limited, it can be difficult to know how best to allocate your marketing funds. Rather than hiring an in-house team or a marketing agency, some are turning to part-time Chief Marketing Officers, or fractional CMOs. 

In this blog post, we explore the pros and cons of hiring a fractional CMO — and explain why, in our humble, unbiased opinion, an agency can be your marketing partner and more. 

What is a fractional CMO? 

Orange Chevrons Right

A fractional CMO is a seasoned marketing executive who provides strategic marketing leadership to companies on a part-time, or contractual basis. Unlike a traditional full-time CMO, a fractional CMO works with multiple companies simultaneously, offering them a “fraction” of their time. The arrangement is akin to a time-share: you enjoy access to all the amenities of an experienced leader, but you have to share them with other “investors,” so you can’t guarantee they’ll be available when you need them.

The pros of fractional CMOs. 

Orange Chevrons Right

There’s a reason why some businesses choose this option — fractional CMOs offer some of the benefits of an in-house marketing team lead without the costs associated with a full-time employee. Here are some of the upsides of fractional CMOS.  

A budget-friendly solution. 

If your budget is limited and you’re looking for someone to develop a high-level strategy for your in-house marketing team, the idea of a fractional CMO might be appealing. For a much lower cost, you’re essentially hiring a contractor to propose a strategy and provide leadership for your team.

Bar graph comparing average monthly salaries of Fractional CMOs and full-time marketing executives.
This graph illustrates the primary appeal of fractional CMOs — they’re much less expensive than salaried employees.1

A range of experience.

Since fractional CMOs often work with various industries and business models, they can leverage cross-sector expertise and propose ideas that may be less well-known in your corner of the market. In theory, at least, this can introduce an out-of-the-box approach.

Rapid recruitment and onboarding.

Full-time roles typically require a lengthy recruitment and onboarding process, as they carry greater financial and legal commitments for your company than a contractor. With a consultant such as a fractional CMO, you can skip the protracted head hunting, salary negotiations and learning curve necessary for internal hires. In the cons section, however, we’ll explain why the time you save during onboarding may be nullified by the time it takes a part-time team member to learn your business.  

A low-commitment relationship.

As contractors, fractional CMOs can be let go at any time. Businesses who only need strategy and leadership for a season — during a period of expansion, for example, or for a critical project or product launch — may bring in a contractor, rather than recruit an internal hire who won’t be necessary long-term.

The cons of fractional CMOs. 

Orange Chevrons Right

As we have seen, fractional CMOs offer some benefits — but the relationship isn’t without drawbacks. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this setup is sometimes unsuccessful.

Divided attention.

The number one drawback of a fractional CMO is in the title — they’re only able to give you a fraction of their time and professional investment. Since these contractors are part-time leaders for multiple teams, you run the risk of paying someone who isn’t available when you need them. Perhaps more importantly — they’re tasked with the challenge of leading a team to which they don’t fully belong. Your team is less likely to feel fully supported by and committed to a leader who isn’t fully bought into the company.

Cultural misalignment.

With divided attention comes less time spent engaging with your in-house team — hearing their ideas and struggles firsthand, understanding how they work individually and together, learning their unique personalities and communication styles. It takes time for new in-house executives to learn about the people and culture of a company. For someone who devotes only part of their attention to a team, it can take much longer. For this reason, the time you save onboarding a contractor may be offset by the time it takes your fractional CMO to learn how to lead your employees.  

“To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”

— Pat Summit 

The best leaders are fully invested in those they lead. 

The challenge of knowledge transfer.

As with any outsourced marketing solution, making sure a contractor stays up-to-date on the ins and outs of your business can be a challenge. What a full-time CMO would pick up simply by being part of internal conversations, a fractional CMO must learn through additional emails, phone calls and meetings. For the arrangement to work, the contractor has to be flexible and readily available for time-sensitive conversations.

When to choose a marketing agency over a fractional CMO. 

Orange Chevrons Right

In many cases, a marketing agency can offer all the benefits of a fractional CMO — and more. The average monthly cost of an integrated agency is on par with the salary of a fractional CMO, but rather than gaining one outside perspective, you gain the insight of a whole team of specialists. An agency can not only provide strategic recommendations, but also implement the strategies it suggests. It can also work with your team, either directly with leadership or an in-house marketing team, rather than awkwardly leading on a part-time, outside basis. You can learn more about the benefits of hiring a marketing agency in our recent blog post.

At Design At Work, we pride ourselves on being forthright with prospective clients. If we don’t feel confident we can meet your needs, we’ll tell you. Contact us if you’re looking for outsourced marketing and need someone to guide you through the process of choosing the best option for your business.  

Marketing Emails You’ll Actually Want To Read.

Get marketing tips and news sent to your inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.